July 12, 2020

A section of the southern border wall that was privately built in January, using funds raised by supporters of President Trump, is showing signs of erosion, and Trump is taking it personally.

"I disagreed with doing this very small (tiny) section of wall, in a tricky area, by a private group which raised money by ads," Trump tweeted on Sunday. "It was only done to make me look bad, and perhsps [sic] it now doesn't even work. Should have been built like rest of Wall, 500 plus miles."

Trump was responding to a ProPublica and Texas Tribune report on a three-mile section of the fence built by Fisher Industries in South Texas, about 35 feet away from the Rio Grande. The riverbank is starting to erode, ProPublica and the Texas Tribune say, and a judge on Wednesday ordered lawyers for Fisher Industries and opponents of the fence to inspect the area.

The group We Build the Wall was established during the government shutdown in 2018, when Trump was demanding Congress fund his border wall. The group raised more than $25 million to privately build fencing, but the South Texas project turned into a showcase for Fisher Industries, The Associated Press reports, and the organization only contributed $1.5 million. Steve Bannon, Trump's former chief strategist, is on We Build the Wall's board, and staunch Trump ally Kris Kobach, Kansas' former secretary of state, is its general counsel.

Experts cautioned that building the fence so close to the river would cause a break in the fence or flooding, AP says, but Fisher Industries still put it up. In May, the company won a $1.3 billion contract from the federal government to build 42 miles of wall in Arizona. CEO Tommy Fisher told AP on Sunday he has "complete respect" for Trump, and thinks he "just got some misinformation on this stuff." Fisher also said rain and the river's natural flow caused some erosion, and if it continues, the gaps will be filled with rocks. "The wall will stand for 150 years, you mark my words," he declared. Catherine Garcia

4:54 p.m.

"My girlfriend" just doesn't have the same ring to it, but comedian John Mulaney is reportedly dating actress Olivia Munn — news that broke shortly after Page Six revealed he's divorcing his wife of six years, Anna Marie Tendler.

Munn and Mulaney supposedly met at church, though Munn has admitted she's had her eye on Mulaney for years. In a 2015 HuffPost Live interview resurfaced by Page Six on Friday, she revealed "we were at a wedding together and I was like 'Oh my gosh, do you and your fiancé want to go have dinner or something and go hang out?'" She added that "I was just so obsessed with hanging out with and talking with him," but afterwards, when Munn emailed Mulaney, he never wrote her back.

"I might've got the wrong email — probably. That's what I tell myself," she joked. Jeva Lange

3:33 p.m.

Joel Greenberg, Rep. Matt Gaetz's (R-Fla.) former confidant, has agreed to cooperate with prosecutors and admitted to sex trafficking a minor, The New York Times reports.

Greenberg, a former Florida tax collector and associate of Gaetz, reached a deal with prosecutors to plead guilty to six federal charges against him, including sex trafficking of a child, according to CNN. He admitted that he and others paid a 17-year-old girl for sex, saying that he "introduced the minor to other adult men, who engaged in commercial sex acts" with her, the Times reports.

Prosecutors reportedly say they have evidence corroborating Greenberg's admissions, per the Times, and Greenberg also reportedly admitted to other crimes including stealing money from taxpayers.

Gaetz has been facing an investigation into whether he had sex with a 17-year-old girl and violated sex trafficking laws. Though Greenberg reportedly didn't implicate Gaetz by name in the new filings, according to the Times, he "has told investigators that Mr. Gaetz had sex with the girl and knew that she was being paid."

Reports emerged last month that Greenberg was likely cooperating with prosecutors, at which point his attorney said, "I am sure Matt Gaetz is not feeling very comfortable today." Meanwhile, investigators in the probe have also reportedly been seeking cooperation from Gaetz's ex-girlfriend, who according to CNN is "believed to have knowledge of drug use and arrangements with women." Brendan Morrow

2:30 p.m.

Politicians — they're just like us.

President Biden's staff during his time as vice president did not serve leafy greens at events because Biden "did not want to be photographed with any leaves in his teeth," said Christopher Freeman, a caterer for the then-vice president, in an interview with The New York Times.

Instead, Biden stocked his vice presidential residence with items like vanilla chocolate chip Haagen-Dazs, Special K cereal, grapes, cheese, and some Orange Gatorade to wash it all down. No "untag" button needed.

Read more at the Times. Brigid Kennedy

1:18 p.m.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) described Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) as a "deeply unwell" person who "clearly needs some help" as video of Greene harassing her office in 2019 resurfaced.

CNN on Friday reported on a since-deleted Facebook Live video showing Greene outside of Ocasio-Cortez's locked office door taunting her staff through a mailbox slot during a Capitol Hill visit in Feb. 2019, before she was elected to Congress. Greene in the video calls Ocasio-Cortez "crazy eyes" and tells her to "get rid of your diaper" while demanding she come outside. She also says that "we have security following us" during the stream and was apparently escorted out by security by the end of the day, CNN reports.

The video was resurfaced after The Washington Post reported that Greene "aggressively confronted" Ocasio-Cortez on Wednesday as she exited the House chamber, shouting at her in an incident House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) described as a "verbal assault" that should "probably" be investigated by the House Ethics Committee.

"This is a woman that's deeply unwell and clearly needs some help," Ocasio-Cortez said Friday. "Her fixation has lasted for several years now. At this point, I think the depth of that unwellness has raised concerns for other members as well, and so I think that this is an assessment that needs to be made by the proper professionals."

In reference to the public debate between the two Greene has been demanding, Ocasio-Cortez said, "It's not a thing, and so I'm concerned about her perceptions of reality." Brendan Morrow

12:56 p.m.

Even Uncle Joe gets angry sometimes.

President Biden has "a short fuse" at times, especially when aides and advisers are unable to answer his many hyper-detailed questions, current and former associates told The New York Times in a report published Friday. It's a description seemingly at odds with the congenial and easygoing persona the American public usually sees.

Driven by a strong "sense of urgency," the president is reportedly susceptible to "flares of impatience," and a tendency to "cut off conversations," per the Times. Occasionally, he's even hung up the phone "on someone who he thinks is wasting his time."

Yet he is also slow to make important decisions, often gathering advice and detail from "scores" of experts before sharing his findings in the self-assured, "plain-speaking" manner he presents publicly. "He has a kind of mantra: 'You can never give me too much detail,'" National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told the Times. It's a difficult minefield to navigate, however; at risk of "an outburst of frustration," those fielding Mr. Biden's questions must go "beyond the vague talking points [the president] will reject" while also avoiding "responses laced with acronyms or too much policy minutiae." Advisers, aides and speechwriters become "hyperprepared" so as to avoid irritation.

Despite his displeasure when staff lack answers to reportedly "obscure" (but important) questions, the president is also "prone to displays of unexpected warmth." He never launches into Trump-esque "fits of rage" and frequently phones his grandchildren, who he calls "the center" of his world.

Read more at The New York Times. Brigid Kennedy

11:29 a.m.

It's official: Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) has won Rep. Liz Cheney's (R-Wyo.) old job.

Republicans on Friday voted to elect Stefanik the new chair of the House Republican Conference. She's replacing Cheney, who was ousted from that position this week for criticizing former President Donald Trump over his false claims of widespread voter fraud in the 2020 presidential election.

Stefanik, meanwhile, is a Trump ally who has backed numerous false election claims he has made, and the former president endorsed her for the leadership position. She thanked Trump for his support after the vote, calling him a "critical part of our Republican team."

“I support President Trump," Stefanik also said. "Voters support President Trump. He is an important voice in our Republican Party, and we look forward to working with him."

Cheney since being removed from her leadership job, on the other hand, has vowed to continue her fight against Trump and ensure he doesn't serve another term as president.

"He's unfit," she told Today. "He never again can be anywhere close to the Oval Office." Brendan Morrow

10:39 a.m.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's updated mask guidance marked a major milestone in the pandemic. But has the agency "skipped a key step"?

The CDC announced Thursday that those who have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 mostly no longer need to wear masks or socially distance. Dr. Leana Wen, a physician and CNN medical analyst, is among the experts who had been critical of the CDC's previous guidelines as overly cautious, but she writes in The Washington Post that with the announcement, the CDC "skipped a key step" and has gone "from over-caution to throwing caution to the wind."

Wen particularly criticizes the CDC guidance for not requiring proof of vaccination.

"By resorting to the honor code, the CDC is removing a critical incentive to vaccination," Wen writes. "Many who were on the fence might have been motivated to get the shot because they could go back to activities they were missing, without a mask. Now, if no one is checking, and they can do everything anyway, why bother?"

All in all, Wen described the CDC's "about-face" as "shockingly abrupt," and The New York Times noted that it "came as a surprise to many people in public health," as in a recent informal survey of epidemiologists, a whopping 80 percent said they expected Americans would need to wear masks indoors for another year.

"Unless the vaccination rates increase to 80 or 90 percent over the next few months, we should wear masks in large public indoor settings," Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute program officer Vivian Towe told the Times.

But the CDC's move has drawn praise from other experts, who argued it's in line with the science and overdue. Former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb also believes it should actually "provide a pretty strong incentive" for people "on the fence" about getting vaccinated, adding that those who would lie about being vaccinated and stop wearing a mask "would have done it anyway." Brendan Morrow

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